My Second Life…

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So, It’s been two months since I blogged here! Sorry, eh. But I’ve been thinking about writing a little on my Second Life (SL) experience. You know, give a little history, perspective and lessons learned, as well as to share something new and cool happening online.

Real quick, you may or may not be familiar with Second Life. SecondLife.com is the website where it all gets started. You make an account, then download the viewer which let’s you interact in the online virtual worlds… it’s sort of like a web browser. You have an avatar and can dress it, edit it’s appearance and make as like your real life self or as different from your real life self as you desire. Your avatar then is your virtual presence as you explore all the various worlds which are individually referred to as “sims.”

So, I first dipped my toe in the water that is Second Life a little over four years ago. Honestly, I didn’t know anyone using SL and in no time at all I stopped logging in. Without friends to help you get started, and to make a safe place for you to learn, the online world can be rather cold and dark. I didn’t meet anyone willing to help me much, so I cruised out. I tried again about a year later with marginally better results. I jumped back in again at the first of 2010, and I’ve had a great experience this time around. And Oh, yeah… sometimes I’m a pirate! Arrrgggh!

Let’s talk real quick about something… so many people, so many, immediately crack a joke like “I don’t have time for one life, how could I take on a second?” when I mention SL. Well, we all have hobbies that require some time and effort. I don’t watch TV. Not even Glee. About the only exception to that is Survivor, and I watch it on my phone. I don’t play Halo or World of Warcraft. I don’t knit and I don’t flip houses for profit with a book I bought from the TV infomercials I never see. So, Second Life is a hobby of sorts. It’s one of the ways I have fun. But it’s also a little more at times…

SL is a hobby and a game, but it’s also social networking and friendships. My friends on SL span the globe from all parts of the US to Spain, Britain, El Salvador, Mexico, Croatia, and Finland to name a few. That’s pretty flippin’ cool if you stop and think about it. Being on SL has given me opportunities to pray with and for these friends, to learn about their little corners of the world, to let our avatars dance together, and celebrate birthdays and holidays like Thanksgiving together. Some of the friendships merge real life and Second Life and run over into Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts.

But, SL is a game! There’s so much fun stuff to do… I build all kinds of things in SL like clothes, houses, boats and more. With easy drop in scripts those things I build can have some functionality, too! I even occasionally sell posters of paintings and photos that I make for decorations in SL homes. Second Life has its own currency that can be bought and sold with US Dollars. I rent land and throw parties for my friends and we play card games in SL. I also do some “role play.” I am a Jedi Knight in some sims, and a medieval archer in another. Most of you know my wife is also in SL, and we have a lot of fun together terraforming our joined islands, building and goofing off.

And one of the most interesting things I’ve done lately is to start leading Sunday services in Second Life. When I joined the medieval archery company I was told that on the sim they had a cathedral. They used to have a pastor who would lead Sunday services there, but he left SL and they had not found a replacement. I was asked to consider the work, and after a week or so of thought and prayer I agreed. As of now, I’ve hosted two services, these last two weeks. The first Sunday I had 3 people other than myself. The second Sunday there were 8 others. The picture here is me kneeling at the Cathedral before leading my first service there. That doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but it would be a great start in a real life church plant!

What’s in a SL Sunday service? Well, so far we’ve been text-based, though I might use some voice chatting later. But not everyone has the ability to chat with voice or even to hear others speaking, so I’m sticking with text for now. We share scripture, prayers, I present a message, and we have some sort of interactive element. And there’s always some conversation. This past Sunday it was amazing to hear the prayer requests that were shared… I’m praying this week for one guy’s nephew who is in the hospital, and for another person looking work, and another’s fear of homelessness… sound like real life stuff? Behind every avatar, there’s a real soul.

What’s the coolest thing about Second Life? Well, we all get to look like we want to look, so everyone is beautiful. This pic is my lovely wife’s avatar! But good looking avatars aren’t the cool part! The cool part is that when you finally figure out that the avatars really are just pixels, but that the real people behind them aren’t, then you can really start listening. Because we aren’t encumbered with one another’s physical details, we have an opportunity to better hear one another’s souls speaking. For real, you can hear the person’s heart. Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll always like what you hear, but it can be very real, and very beautiful.

That all sounds nice, but what about the drawbacks of SL? There are some very real dangers and drawbacks to Second Life. Because we don’t have the physical details of someone with whom are friends, they have an opportunity to lie, and many do. I know of someone who faked a real life death to manipulate someone else’s feelings. Some will lie and try to cheat you out of your money and worse.

Here’s how I have often described it: It’s a situation of extreme anonymity which mixes disastrously with a high degree of vulnerability. In other words, if you put your real life feelings on the line with everyone, many will hurt you. And that’s a Real Life thing as well as a Second Life thing. But there’s more, and maybe worse…

Second Life is a truly creative and interactive platform for pornography. If you struggle with pornography, and I’m talking about more than just being a guy, you do not need SL bringing you down. Your avatar can be as anatomically correct as you want it to be, and just as active sexually. Many people get into SL and then find themselves struggling with the pornographic side of it. And that brings me to something I always tell new people when I meet them in Second Life…

Don’t ever think you can do things in SL you that would never do in real life without any consequences. If you jump into Second Life and start making deep emotional investments in someone other than your spouse, you’ll get into trouble. And yes, your avatar can be married to another avatar. I’ve talked to people who intentionally explored sexual themes and practices in SL because they thought, “I’ll never do this in real life, and this is simply a virtual thing, not real.” And the next thing they know, they are suffering emotionally for their actions. The avatars may be virtual, but shame is for real. You are for real. The things in which you invest your time, your thoughts, your money, your heart and soul, become very real indeed.

So, like everything else you’ll choose for a hobby, SL has some great stuff going for it, and some really scary pitfalls to be avoided. But you’re so lucky! If you decide to join up and explore a Second Life, you’ve got a friend on the inside! Look me up, I’m Swirlyfoot Lighthouse in Second Life. Want to see some fun videos I’ve made from random days in Second Life? Check out Swirlyfoot’s YouTube channel!

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